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Visual Art and Embodiment in a World of Subjectivity

©Beth Carruthers 2003

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In the mid to late 20th century, ocularcentrism and vision itself came to be heavily criticised within cultural practices - particularly the visual arts. As David Abram writes in his forward to Laura Sewell’s Sight and Sensibility, “The objectifying gaze has become a cliché of contemporary criticism” [p. xiv]. Visual art was easily targeted as problematic and within art institutions artists responded by scrambling to achieve the desired distance from visual pleasure, or to critique the gaze within their work. Artworks metamorphosed into configurations of signs and text.

As a visual artist, I found myself split. Taking up the stance expected of a successful artist involved a disconnection from my lived experience of artmaking; an experience joyful, engaged, intimately and ultimately sensual. How to reconcile the intimate touching of visual contact with a discourse that, while intent in its desire to critique objectification, in fact promoted further removal from world, self and other?

The relationship of vision to the visual arts is problematic and in many ways parallels the problem of apparent sensory disconnection to place and other within Western culture. Does such a disconnection in fact exist, or is it merely a stance taken - an ideal of disconnection constructed to support cultural habits and beliefs? I believe the latter to be the case and that this stance is continually reinforced by a number of behaviors within the culture.